Julius Randle Represents The Epitome Of The Eye Test Versus Analytics
by 6 January 2016, 11:36 AM
Julius Randle may not be receiving the slack he deserves.
“He’s got to grow up. Simple as that,” said Lakers head coach Byron Scott following a blowout victory for his team over the Phoenix Suns. The “he” Scott was referring to was Lakers power forward Julius Randle. Scott added that he hasn’t liked Randle’s body language or his reaction to getting benched this season. Randle, of course, has struggled shooting the ball, and after starting the year at power forward for Byron Scott, he is now running with the second unit (for what it’s worth, so is D’Angelo Russell).
Randle was replaced in the starting lineup on December 7th by Larry Nance Jr., yes that Larry Nance Jr. While Nance Jr. hasn’t done anything out of this world, the team has performed better and notched five of their eight victories on the year after this switch.
Since getting replaced, Randle’s numbers when starting - 11.7 points and 9.2 rebounds - haven’t changed all that much. His averages are now at 10.8 points and 10.1 rebounds. At first glance those are very solid numbers, especially for a guy who is only 35 games or so into his NBA career. Randle of course was injured on opening night last season, ultimately missing the entire year.
Despite the injury, there was optimism from fans after seeing vines of Randle hitting 18-foot jumpers during his recovery. There was optimism that emerged thanks to his summer league play. In fact, there is still optimism from those stats above, despite his benching. Yet a closer look at the numbers show that it has been a pretty poor year for a guy who was once the third best player coming out of high school. Only Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker, the eventual top two picks in the 2014 NBA Draft, were rated higher.
The first rounder’s point and rebound totals paint a complex picture of how his season has gone. Now, though Byron Scott’s handling of Randle has not helped the youngster find his footing, Scott is not out of line with his analysis about Randle’s body language, even if you think Randle is justified in reacting negatively to getting benched. Julius Randle’s underlying numbers are poor, especially his advanced stats. But if you watch a Lakers game and Randle gets his minutes, he shows promise well beyond those poor statistics. If we take into account what Randle shows in games as well as consider the context of his situation - which I’ll discuss later - this becomes a classic case of eye test vs. analytics.
The numbers say that Julius Randle has been a disappointment. With his frame and skill set, the former third-best player out of high school should be doing better. He probably still shouldn’t be behind Nance Jr. in the rotation because of his upside, but maybe it’s merited based on the numbers he’s putting up. Let’s explore those numbers.
If you saw Randle in a gym you’d assume that he’s devastating on the glass. This young man, seemingly in a giant’s body, is currently fifth in the NBA in Defensive Rebound Percentage (29.5%) and 10th in Total Rebounding Percentage (19%). Think about that for a second. Randle grabs 30% of his opponents misses when he’s on the floor. To put that in perspective, the best rebounder in the NBA is Andre Drummond and he grabs a little under 34% of potential defensive rebounds. Unfortunately for Randle, the statistical positives begin and end with rebounding.
Randle is shooting under 42% from the field, which is awful for any big man. Since his move to the bench, his FG% has dropped from 43.3% to 38.9%. Yikes. The curious thing about Randle’s shooting is 31% of his shots are jumpers, yet Randle is shooting 33% from 6-12 feet, 22% from 12-18 feet, and 21% from 18-24 feet, per NBA Savant. These are not exactly conducive percentages to justify so many jump shots. The shooting inefficiency doesn’t just end with his jumpers, though. Randle is shooting under 52% from the field at the rim. That’s simply not good enough, and it is bewildering given his skill set and ability to create space in the paint.
It goes far past shooting though, especially when you get to the advanced metrics. Randle is 95th out of 96 power forwards in Real Plus-Minus, a statistic that determines a player’s impact when on the court. Furthermore, his defense leaves a lot to be desired - and it was the reason he was pulled against Phoenix. Here’s Randle’s defensive shot chart for the current season:
Other than defending the top of the arc three and mid range jumpers outside of the paint, it’s been a struggle defensively for Randle. He currently has a negative Box Plus-Minus and a Defensive Rating of 106. At 6-foot-9, Randle has a solid wingspan of seven feet, as well as a near nine foot standing reach, according to measurements at the NBA Draft Combine, both great defensive tools.
Though he has those tools which provide optimism, he’s clearly struggling. His offensive rating is still only 96, which doesn’t compensate for his defense, and it’s hard to find a good Lakers lineup with Randle in it. Out of 10 five-man, four-man, three-man and two-man combinations, there are only four lineups where the Lakers outscore their opponent. Thirty of those forty combinations see the Lakers outscored by 10 or more points. Not much to love right?
But let’s step away from the stats for a second. To solely evaluate a player or team based on the numbers is a mistake. Ignoring analytics is akin to being misinformed, but solely relying on them is also foolish as well. Numbers need context. There’s a reason that despite access to these same numbers, no one is really worried about Randle’s development within the Lakers organization. What does the eye test and context say about Randle, and how does that affect our conclusions about Randle given his poor numbers?
In reference to the eye test and context, let’s re-visit Randle’s lineup combinations. The Lakers are a really bad defensive team. They are literally the worst defensive team in the league. So why should we really expect Randle to have great defensive numbers? But let’s not stop there.
The Lakers are 29th in Offensive Efficiency and last in Effective Field Goal Percentage. So again — follow my logic — why should we be surprised or discouraged by the fact that Randle is shooting the ball poorly? Los Angeles is 28th in Assist Ratio, so not only are they an awful offensive team, but they don’t even get their teammates good shots. It would make more sense to be impressed if Randle had solid numbers on this team given how badly the Lakers are playing. It’s somewhat logical that he’s struggling.
Another important example of context to consider upon evaluating the former Wildcat is that Randle missed his to-be rookie season with a broken leg. While he surely gained invaluable knowledge about being a professional, how to take care of himself and probably grew a lot through tremendous adversity, he is very much still an NBA rookie. Nothing helps you adjust to the NBA like playing; making jumpers and displaying spin moves in practice isn’t the same as doing so in live games.
Given the context, let’s apply the eye test. He flashes all of the promise and skill that made him the third best college recruit of 2013: a devastating first step, a wonderful, strong frame, solid athleticism, above average feel, vision and passing, as well as the ability to put the ball on the floor and lead fast breaks.
We’ve seen all of this just in over 30+ games this season. We’ve seen flashes of, dare I say former-Laker Lamar Odom. The high IQ, the passing, the first step and the ability to lead the break - all present. He’s putting together moves like this, and all after a terrible leg break.
And there’s plenty more to see, like this slam over Celtics’ center Kelly Olynyk, who is having a fine defensive season:
This - context and the eye test - matters just as much as the statistics; Randle provides fans with a unique example of not being stubbornly loyal to just numbers.
His poor body language after getting pulled matters as much as his FG%, just like his resilience and skill set matter as much as his rebounding percentage. In Julius Randle, we have a young man who only just turned 21 years old. At such a young age, he can already put the ball on the floor, blow by his man and dunk on a help defender. At 6-foot-9 he can do that.
In evaluating Randle, I would also argue that we have to consider how he is coached. Scott is clearly not his pal nor is he probably the best coach for him. The best is yet to come for Randle, both at an older age and under better guidance. When he learns this game and profession more adequately, and the Lakers improve, we can probably lean more on the side of analyitics. But for now, it would be foolish to think of Randle as the kid with a bad attitude, averaging a double-double on a poor team, with bad advanced numbers. Rather we should think of him as an exciting young prospect who has battled through injury, coaching and culture, and the best remains to be seen. Someone who can move and finish at the rim like Randle is far from a first year player having a bad season.
*Stats via NBA Savant, Basketball Reference and Hollinger’s ESPN Stats, and were as of before the Lakers game against the Warriors
Edited by Joe Sparacio.
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